Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Free Minds Free People 2011: Providence, R.I.

Providence housed me for four days, all delightful.  The Biltmore Hotel gave us a great deal on rooms.  Four of us stayed in a very comfortable suite with a good view of the city:

From there, it was just a brief walk to the high school complex hosting the conference.  I was really impressed that the Providence schools offered their buildings to us; one Twitter user pointed out, and I agreed, that it was good to have a conference that focused on K-12 education actually in a high school instead of a college or convention center.

The first night, one of my roommates and I visited a small local-food eatery called AS220 Foo(d).  This is a non-profit organization that uses all proceeds from the restaurant to support arts programs for kids and a radical art space nearby.  I think there is a theater there too.  Great food, a bar with creative/local drinks, and arts support?  This was a cause I could support whole-heartedly.  And the salad specials were named after musicals!  You can't see them quite as well in the picture, but I chose "The Sound of Music" (a tasty watermelon-pumpkin seed-feta combo) over the also-appealing "Cannibal: The Musical."
I know, pictures of me with drinks and raised eyebrows
are so flattering.  But in the name of science:  Organic
Prairie Vodka, some kind of raspberry liquor, and some
oranges or something.  Surely enough of these and the
Midwest would again erupt in popular fervor for equality.
Promptly I decided this was the best place in Providence, and possibly the world.  Yum. It was also so good that I returned for a second night, with another roommate, and enjoyed an appropriately named drink:  the Radical Praerie.  Someday, someday, we will liberate the inter-coastal lands and make ourselves models for the coasts, models of public transit and mutual aid and food sovereignty.
I didn't actually have a lot of time to spend in the city.  Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design were on my must-see list, but they got bumped in favor of the Roger Williams Memorial Park.  I don't get teary-eyed much over our Founding Fathers, but Roger Williams really was quite a defender of human rights (for his time and circumstances, anyway).  His ideas about the separation of church and state still help structure our national culture.  Also, I really like the idea of a memorial park as opposed to just another museum.  There were paths for wandering around, and plaques along the way discussed Williams' life and the development of the Rhode Island colonial life.

Three innovative pieces marked the park:  a video project on the American Dream, a grassy slide with a chalkboard and chalk, and gardens demonstrating colonial agriculture.  The video project involved an artist asking people in contemporary Providence about their understanding of the American Dream and how it fit into their lives.  It ran on a continuous loop, in a weather-protected TV surrounded by flowers.  Pretty cool.  

Of course, I had to add my
own thoughts on the
The grassy slide-sculpture-apparatus had a chalkboard anyone could write on, with a little bucket of chalk beside it.  Publicly responsible graffiti.  It was different both times I wandered by it.   

Then, by a small interpretive center, were two sets of gardens: one demonstrating the agriculture of the area's Native American peoples, and another set of gardens that showed what a typical New England housewife might have planted in the colonial period.  What a delightful little piece of horticultural education.
Overall, I thought this was a town where a person could spend some pleasant and relaxed summers.  There was a large street music festival on Thursday night, with bands and parading groups and vendors and all that jazz.  A pretty nifty city.

If you are still reading and interested, I found out that Roger Williams thought that the first four commandments should not be enforced by human authorities, and that was the basis of his belief in religious freedom.  He also learned some Native American languages and wrote some of the first textbooks on that topic.  He was a little more sympathetic to the rights of non-white inhabitants of the U.S. than most of his contemporaries, although I don't want to make claims about some kind of great multicultural understanding that I can't document and find possibly false.  He did seem a lot more progressive than a lot of our other "founders" though, and it was cool to see the Baptist church that he attended--still standing!

No comments:

Post a Comment